Predicting the Eagles' 53-man roster

LeSean McCoy leads a strong group of tailbacks that will likely include Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. The Eagles will not use a fullback.
LeSean McCoy leads a strong group of tailbacks that will likely include Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. The Eagles will not use a fullback. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 30, 2013

A new coach, many new faces, and injuries to several players on the bubble have made forecasting the Eagles' 53-man roster a difficult task.

Chip Kelly has Thursday night's preseason finale at the New York Jets to make final evaluations, but we're getting a two-day head start - NFL rosters must be trimmed by 6 p.m. Saturday - on predicting who stays and who goes.

The 53-man regular-season roster will be, of course, fluid. The Eagles are expected to add waived players from other teams at spots in which they are thin in advance of the Sept. 9 season opener at Washington.

One of the keys to projecting the roster is to not fixate on a certain number for each position. The Eagles will take the best 53 - or at least that's what they've been telling us.

Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley.

As much as Kelly loves his quarterbacks - he's kept five for all of the preseason - he'll retain only three after Saturday. Remarkably, six-year veteran Dennis Dixon still has practice squad eligibility.

Running backs (3): LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk.

Kelly ditched the fullback in March, so the Eagles need only three tailbacks - a trio as strong as any in the NFL. Undrafted rookie Matthew Tucker is a practice squad candidate.

Wide receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Greg Salas, Russell Shepard.

Jeremy Maclin's season-ending knee injury opened the door to one receiver. Greg Salas earned his spot with a consistent preseason. Shepard, an undrafted rookie, could have a better shot of playing on game days, however. He's been a steady contributor on special teams. The 6-foot-7 Ifeanyi Momah is limited but could be a practice squad project.

Tight ends (4): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Clay Harbor.

Harbor's versatility should earn him a spot. He started practicing with the receivers a few weeks ago, and even worked out with the outside linebackers in the spring. Four tight ends is a lot, but Kelly favors the mismatches they can create.

Offensive linemen (9): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Danny Watkins.

Kelly's back surgery could have the Eagles down to one healthy backup tackle (Barbre) through the first few weeks of the season. Vandervelde beat Dallas Reynolds out at backup center. Watkins, the Birds' 2011 first-round draft pick, makes the team by default. Playing only guard could hinder his chances. Tackle Matt Tobin, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa, could sneak onto the roster. Rookie tackle Michael Bamiro is an intriguing prospect destined to land on the practice squad.

Defensive linemen (7): Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Damion Square, Clifton Geathers, Vinny Curry.

Square, an undrafted rookie, has consistently played on the second team all preseason. Antonio Dixon spent the first few weeks of training camp sidelined with a hamstring injury and isn't a scheme fit. Rookie Joe Kruger, a sixth-round defensive end, has greater upside than David King, another sixth- round end, and could be stored on the practice squad.

Outside linebackers (4): Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Chris McCoy.

The Eagles will be in the market for outside linebackers, so McCoy should still hold his breath if he lasts past 6 p.m. Saturday. He's decent dropping into coverage, but gets pushed around in the run. Undrafted rookie Travis Long could jump ahead of McCoy if the Eagles see something worth developing.

Inside linebackers (5): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Emmanuel Acho, Jake Knott, Casey Matthews.

The Eagles have a nice mix here. They need to keep only four, but a slimmed-down Matthews earned a spot with his performance against the Jaguars last week. Acho, acquired after the Eagles dealt tailback Dion Lewis to the Browns, has been a pleasant surprise. Knott could get snatched away if the Eagles tried to hide him on the practice squad.

Cornerbacks (5): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh, Jordan Poyer.

Marsh fractured his hand two weeks ago, but has since had surgery and said last week that he didn't expect to be out long. We'll see. The fact that his injury occurred a week before Brandon Hughes also fractured his hand could help his chances of making the team. Neither is particularly special in a reserve role, but the pickings are slim at cornerback. Rookie Jordan Poyer is not quick, but he showed some instincts last week. He, Marsh, or Hughes could hang on unless the Eagles add yet-to-be-named castoffs from other squads, which is likely. Trevard Lindley could steal the last slot with a strong outing at the Meadowlands.

Safeties (4): Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson.

The Eagles could hang onto veteran safety Kurt Coleman and make it five rather than keep six receivers, or four tight ends or five inside linebackers. But Shepard, Harbor, and Matthews have performed better in the preseason. Coleman has one more game to "make plays" and change minds.

Specialists (3): Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos.

This group was set on Sunday when rookie punter Brad Wing was cut.

Click here for complete coverage of Philadelphia Eagles training camp.

Eagles at Jets: What to Watch

Here are some things to keep an eye on when the Eagles travel to the Meadowlands for Thursday's preseason finale against the New York Jets:

The other starting safety spot. Patrick Chung will sit like most of the starters, but Nate Allen won't because he has yet to nail down the other starting spot. The Eagles would like to see Allen come out and win the job. But if he's shaky, rookie Earl Wolff could back his way into the starting lineup.

Cornerback depth. Hand fractures to Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes and Eddie Whitley's knee injury have the Eagles down to five healthy corners. Starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher may have to play because of numbers, but reserves Trevard Lindley and Jordan Poyer should get plenty of opportunities.

Nick Foles. The second-year quarterback will start and play for at least a half. Foles was effective with the second unit last week, several days after Chip Kelly awarded Michael Vick the starting job.

Matt Barkley. This could be the rookie quarterback's last opportunity to play this season. There are some who think that Barkley will start late in the season if the Eagles are in the tank. But it's more likely that Foles will see those starts.

Ball security. The Eagles had three turnovers last week. Running backs Bryce Brown and Chris Polk each have had fumbles in the last two games. Brown's ball security issues have been chronic. Wide receiver Damaris Johnson, as electrifying as Brown, also fumbled last week during a punt return.

The bubble. A handful of Eagles, both old and new, are on the bubble for the 53-man roster. Keep an eye out for receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard, tight end Clay Harbor, linebacker Casey Matthews, and safety Kurt Coleman. - Jeff McLane

Contact Jeff McLane at Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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